Children, health and
toxins in our environment
Our children live in a world vastly different from the one we grew up in. More than 80,000 chemicals, most of which did not exist fifty years ago, are registered for use in commerce in the United States, and an estimated 2,000 new ones are introduced every year. These chemicals are used in everyday items such as foods, shampoos, toys, furniture, electronics, household cleaners, and lawn care products, to name just a few. The effects of many of these chemicals on human health are unknown.
Unfortunately, there is no pre-market safety testing required under any federal law for these chemicals and of the 15,000 most commonly used chemicals, more than 80% have not been tested for potential health effects on children. None have been tested for their health effects when they interact with one another, but that’s how we’re exposed to them.
What is this doing to our kids? For the most part, we don’t really know. It’s largely an unregulated experiment – and it’s being conducted on us and our children. One thing we do know is that childhood disease and disabilities that have links to toxic exposures are on the rise.
It’s a phenomenon we can see with our own eyes. Think of how many children you know who have asthma, allergies, learning or behavior disabilities, or even cancer. Most of us can see that there are more than there were even ten years ago. Statistically, it is startling. The incidence of cancer in children jumped 26% between 1975 and 19981. The number of children in special education programs increased 191% from 1977 to 19942. The number of children aged 6 to 21 with autism has increased 500% in the past decade3. Childhood asthma rates increased over 120% between 1980 and 20011. Granted, these rates could be the result of true increases in incidence, improved detection or reporting, or some combination of these factors, but they still suggest a problem of epidemic proportion. Our health is the result of complex interactions among genetic, environmental and social factors, but toxic exposures deserve special attention because they are preventable causes of harm.
Why it’s so important
to prevent children’s exposure to environmental toxins
Beginning in utero, babies and children are different than adults — they are often much more vulnerable to these environmental toxins.
Pound-for-pound, children breathe more air, drink more water, and eat more food than adults. Thus, they are more exposed to air and water pollution and pesticides.
Their bodies are more rapidly growing and developing, so chemicals that can harm development can do maximum damage at this critical time.
Children play on the floor, where allergens, such as dust, and heavier-than-air chemicals settle and collect. Young children put everything in their mouth, which is a crucial part of normal development, the way a baby learns about the world.
Everyone can do something
It may seem overwhelming, but there are many things each of us can do to protect children from harmful exposures to toxins.
- Use the resources found at www.HealthyChild.org to learn about easy steps you can take to create a healthier environment for children.
- Shop smart by using Healthy Child Healthy World’s Safer Products Store at http://chec.greenhome.com/products/. Let your local businesses know that you want them to sell safer products.
- Contact your local, state and federal elected officials to tell them you want them to support protecting children’s health from unnecessary exposure to toxins.
1 America's Children and the Environment: Measures of Contaminants, Body Burdens, and Illnesses, 2003, U.S. EPA. http://yosemite.epa.gov/ochp/ochpweb.nsf/content/publications.htm.
2 In Harm’s Way: Toxic Threats to Child Development, 2000, Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility. http://psr.igc.org/ihw-project.htm.
3 Special Education: Children with Autism, 2005. U.S. Government Accountability Office. http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d05220.pdf.